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Rays look to re-stock talent pool with MLB Draft

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With far less fanfare and the hoopla that surrounds the NFL Draft, Major League Baseball will conduct the first two rounds of their version beginning Monday. The Tampa Bay Rays have the fourth overall pick.

Drafting that high, Tampa Bay has several “can’t miss” prospects from which to choose. That does not guarantee the next star player, but they have had some success over the decade.

Melvin E. (B.J.) Upton was their top pick in 2002, followed by Delmon Young the next year, Evan Longoria in 2006, David Price in 2007 and Tim Beckham in 2008.

Two of the more notable first round flops came in 2009 with the pick of LeVon Washington, who did not sign, and never made it above Class A with another organization. One of the saddest failures involved 2010 first round pick Chris Sale, who also never climbed higher than Class A.

The last two first round picks, Josh Lowe and Garrett Whitley, are currently at Class A Bowling Green, Ky.

Several mock drafts project Tampa Bay selecting University of Virginia outfielder Adam Haseley, which would be a safe pick. College players have little leverage and are more likely to sign. Conversely, drafting high school players can by risky because that player has the option of going to college if he is looking for a higher signing bonus offer.

MLB.com projects Louisville two-way player Brendan McKay as their likely pick. McCay struck out 131 batters in 97 innings on the mound, while hitting 17 home runs and knocking in 56 runs at the plate. He also hit .356.

Baseball America sees the Rays making that risky high school player pick. They project Tampa Bay will go with California infielder/outfielder Royce Lewis.

In later rounds, the Rays will have several outstanding Florida-based players from which to choose. That will likely not include University of Florida pitcher Alex Faedo, who is expected to be long gone as a top-15 pick. Two two high school infielders are getting a lot of attention.

Chris Seise is a shortstop from West Orange High School in Winter Garden. Seise is ranked the 34th-best prospect by Major League Baseball Network.

He could conceivably go late in the first round or be available to the Rays with the 4th pick of the second round. The same is true for Miami high school shortstop Jeter Downs, who is ranked 35th by MLB Network.

University of Tampa pitcher Garrett Cave is MLB Network’s 88th-ranked prospect while Baseball America has him at 56th. That could lead to a possible late second round or third round pick.

Other Florida-based players who could go in the early rounds include University of South Florida infielder/outfielder Kevin Merrell (a Tampa native and College of Central Florida pitcher Nate Pearson. Both are top 100 prospects.

The draft concludes Wednesday.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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